Huntingtons are back with their first new album of recorded material in 17 years—their 8th full-length overall. This time around the band comprises Mike Holt (vocals/bass) Jonathan “Cliffy” Walker (guitars/vocals) Josh Blackway (guitars/vocals) and Chris Eller (drums).
While the band has been known for its admiration for the Ramones, the first thing that struck me about Muerto, Carcel o Rocanroll is how much less obvious their worship for the leather-clad New Yorkers is this time. There are a few nods to them, most notably on ‘You Don’t Have to Go,’ and ‘I Don’t Wanna Die Alone’ (which reminds me a bit of ‘Poison Heart’ from Mondo Bizarro), but there’s clearly been some development of their sound in their 17-year hiatus.
While it’s too simplistic to identify them simply as Ramones-clones, it’s also no longer accurate to think of them as pop-punk. There’s a much more traditional approach to punk taken this time around, and yet the refined production suits the music. Raw and fast, and yet each instrument can be heard clearly—a rare feat to achieve in this genre.
This time around there are lots of guitar solos and dirty-sounding riffs, a very effective technique. Muerto is quite possibly their hardest, fastest album to date. In fact, at times the tempo approaches early 80s hardcore (a la Black Flag, Bad Religion rather than Minor Threat), particularly on the comical ‘Say Hi to Your Mom.’ The song is a lyrical nod to Back to the Future. ‘Liar’ is another really fast tune with a catchy chorus.
Another standout cut is opening track ‘Too Old to Care.’ Like another veteran band, Starflyer 59, they too are pining the realities of aging. Unlike that band, however, Huntingtons take a more cynical approach: “Took a listen to your playlist/Tried my best but man it’s not my thing. The modern royals might get your worship, but if you ask me J is still the king. It’s fine by me to not agree, and I’m aware. But I’m too old to care.” The catchy chorus and vocal harmonies had me singing along upon first listen.
Apart from the slight shift in sound, they’re now taking a different approach lyrically as well. While explicit faith statements have never been a huge part of the Huntingtons’ modus operandi, there is clearly a lyrical shift on this album to more ‘mature’ subjects. Whereas in the past it seemed at times they were playing a role (High School Rock comes to mind), with Muerto, there is a real sense of ‘real life’ expression in the lyrics. Rather than singing about pool parties and bubblegum girls, they’re now trying to address some real issues.
For instance, there are no less than 3 songs about the abuse of alcohol and its subsequent consequences—legal, relational, and personal. Two of these tracks are written from the first person, which begs the question of whether they are autobiographical or it’s just a writing technique. Either way, the songs are definitely interesting.
Another 3 songs deal with dysfunctional relationships caused by dishonesty and/or deceptive personality traits; but “Thank God for the Bomb” finds the band reminiscing again. This time it’s about their career as a band—the title itself hearkens back to the Fun and Games album. “Be with You” is a punk rock love song. “I wanna be the one, I wanna be the one, I wanna be the one, I wanna be the one who wants to be with you.”
I Don’t Wanna Die Alone is a poignant look at how we bring our imperfect selves to relationships. Perhaps we realize how far off the mark we are when it comes to committing and doing our part and the sometimes harsh reality that can set in: “I want you to know that I won’t stop carin’/But I don’t know if you’ll still be there/Oh I know that I won’t stop tryin’/But I don’t know if anyone will care/I don’t wanna die alone.”
It’s actually quite strange to have such a pleasant listening experience with a ‘fun’ album that covers so much heavy material. It’s not a downer, by any means, despite having dealt with topics like alcoholism, dysfunctional relationships (sometimes in the 1st person), and deception. Final track is a cover of the Greg Kihn classic “The Breakup Song.”
While Muerto, Carcel o Rocanroll (Dead, Jail or Rock and Roll) won’t bewilder fans already familiar with the band, it does include some surprising forays into new territory. And it just might win over a few new fans as well.